Guest Post: Amy Highland, Sleephelp.org
Want to fight jet lag? You've come to the right place.
Jet lag is considered the bane of most traveler’s existence. Whether you're bright-eyed at 3AM or hardly able to keep awake through tea time, jet lag can inconvenience your trip in countless ways. However, considering that it takes your body a day to adjust to each time zone you cross, think of what a jaunt to Hanoi ca do to your system.
It’s only been in the past 80 or so years that people could jump time zones the way they can on flights today. Jet lag, otherwise known as circadian desynchrony, is a disruption in your body clock that leaves your body mismatched to its current location. In other words, your body clock stays at its point of departure and takes time to catch up to your destination. Traveling eastward takes a harder toll on your body in terms of insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Traveling westward usually means that you’re up earlier than everybody else, but can be less confusing for your system.
The desynchronization affects not just sleep, but also body temperature, blood pressure, hormone regulation, and hunger. Some of the symptoms may include the inability to get to sleep, fatigue during the daytime, not being able to perform mental and physical tasks, reduced alertness, and headaches. Not so fun, right? Here are some ways to soften the blow as your body clock catches up to your port of call:
1. Understand Melatonin & Use it To Your Advantage
Melatonin is often used as a sleep aid, and while it can help knock you out in higher doses, smaller doses can help your body clock get back on track. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that is produced according to how much light you see. This study shows that taking 0.5-5mg doses of melatonin close to your target bedtime can significantly decrease jet lag symptoms.
2. Control Your Screen Time
Remember how melatonin levels are linked to light? The same goes for the blue light emitting from your phone, computer, TV screen, any type of screen. It’s already confusing to your body to see light before bedtime, but even more of a mixed signal when your body is seven times zones out of place. Switching certain devices to nighttime mode can help with the blue light, but it may be better to keep it low-fi and integrate a meditation or a few pages out of a book, if your work can wait.
3. Hit the Pavement
Exercise can be one of your healthiest travel companions. Shake out those legs that have been stuck in a cabin for hours on end. If you’re not visiting a city, hit the trailheads, rivers, or anywhere you can get up, get out, and move your body. A brisk walk can save you from taking a jet-lag-induced nap that will keep you out of sync. Up before the crack of dawn? Get out and see the sunrise long before anyone else is out on the streets. It can be good for you and a special experience.
4. Adjust to Your New Environment
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. By simply recalibrating your body to where it is, you can help ease the pains of jet lag with a few easy steps:
Eat Meals at Local-Appropriate Times: You may not be hungry when your body thinks it’s 2 am, but scheduling your meals by the local clock may help you adjust. Resist the temptation to cheat in between meals. If you’re in Shanghai, your body may be screaming that it’s dinner time in Sacramento. Keep your clock on the current side of the pond.
Be Your Own Sun and Moon: Again, light is one of the biggest controllers of your body clock. Travel with a high-quality eye mask that can fully block out sunlight when it’s time for bed. Get bright sun exposure in the morning if you are traveling east. Do the same later in the day if traveling west. If you’re stuck indoor, use a lightbox or another source of artificial light to help your body get on track.
Sleep Wisely: Maximize your sleep during the first few nights. Resist the urge to nap. Make sure that your environment is conducive to sleep. Bring along items that make you feel good if you’re going to be stuck in a hotel, be that your favorite aromatherapy spray, blanket, or portable speaker to play relaxing playlists. Adjusting your sleep schedule before you take off may help manage jet lag too.
But most of all...be patient! Getting over jet lag is just a matter of time. And while it can be frustrating and make you feel like a bit of a zombie, remember that you’re lucky to have the opportunity to check out a new country and time zone. Go easy on yourself and enjoy the journey!
About the Author: Amy Highland is a sleep expert at Sleephelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy's a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.
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